Ten Schools in Ten Days: Arizona State Women's Soccer Preview
Aug. 25, 2005
As Arizona State enters its tenth season of varsity women's soccer, the Sun Devils are ready to kick off a year that could prove to be their most successful season ever. Coming off an overall record of 8-9-2 and a fourth-place Pac-10 finish in 2004 (4-3-2), the Sun Devils are returning seven senior leaders and eight of eleven starters to a squad which is just a year removed from two consecutive trips to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
'I am more anxious than ever before entering the year with this team. This is our chance to step up and prove we can be the team we know we are,' said head coach Ray Leone, now in his fourth year with the program. 'We went through a lot last season and what we have taken from it was very positive. I believe in this team and I always have. Our team believes in each other as well.'
Leone has much to be confident about, as the majority of his core leadership will be returning to the field this year. Senior starters Juanita Lawson, Brittany Cooper, Elizabeth Bogus, Stephanie Ebner, and Manya Makoski will all be returning for the Sun Devils.
The Sun Devils remained active during the summer as offensive standout Manya Makoski joined the United States Under-21 National Team at the 2005 Nordic Cup for her third straight year and, for the third straight time, brought home a tournament championship. As well, teammates Elizabeth Bogus and Brittany Cooper played on the same summer squad for the second year in a row, adding to the familiarity that the two already had with each other's playing styles. As well, Leone made a position change this summer, moving midfielder Stephanie Ebner to a defender, creating a solid anchor for the Sun Devil back line.
'My main goal for this group of seniors is for them to go out on top this year and have the time of their life doing it. Being as this was the first recruiting class of mine at Arizona State, they are very special to me and I want them to go out with style because they deserve it,' added Leone. 'Senior leadership will be a key factor in this year's success. To me, it feels like yesterday when I recruited each one of them and I want this season to last as long as possible.'
As well, Leone welcomes seven new faces to his squad this year, some of who he expects to make an immediate impact. Freshmen Kylla Sjoman and Christine Nieva both played for their country's respective national teams this summer, as Sjoman saw time on Team Canada's U-19 team while Nieva is a veteran of the Mexican National Team, having seen time at both the youth and senior levels.
'I am very excited about what they will bring to this team. They bring a subtle difference to us, having played different styles against different styles and will give us another dimension to add to this already well-built team,' said Leone. 'I think that players who grow up watching international soccer, like these two, have a different frame of reference on the game than someone who has not watched the game at the international level.'
However, incoming freshmen won't be the only new faces on the bench for Leone as he rounded out his coaching staff by hiring his former associate coach at Clemson and wife, Tracey Leone. Ray and Tracey last coached together as a tandem in 1999 when they led the Clemson Tigers to a 14-7-2 record and a spot in the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament. Ray and Tracey make Arizona State the only school to have two coaches on staff that were finalists for NCAA Division-I National Coach of the Year, as Ray was a finalist in 2000 and Tracey was a runner-up in 1994.
'The biggest addition we are making to the program this season is a new assistant coach in Tracey Leone. We have not coached full-time together in a long time and I am very excited about this possibilities this holds for the Sun Devil program. I truly believe that you do not win two Gold Medals by accident, which is something she has done at both the U-19 level and the Senior level,' elaborated Leone about his wife. 'Our team is thrilled, as am I, about the addition of Tracey to the staff. First of all, we have always worked well together as a team and second, she brings a level of energy to the program that will be an awesome boost to our team.'
Big challenges do face this Sun Devil team, as once again they will play one of the toughest slates of games in the nation with a schedule that features teams from nine different conferences and several nationally-ranked teams, including the season opener against last year's runner-up for the NCAA championship, Santa Clara.
'Last year's schedule was a very difficult one, but I feel it toughened us up and gave us a lot of experience. I am glad we took on the challenge because we grew as a team from the experience. This year's schedule is very similar to last year's because again we are starting off against one of the top tier teams in the nation,' said Leone. 'I think this will be a great test for us at the beginning of the season to see how well we have prepared this summer. It will show us what we have to do to play at the highest level of the collegiate game.'
All in all, the 2005 Sun Devils look to be one of the most balanced and all-around talented teams that the school has fielded. Looking to return to the NCAA tournament for the school's fourth berth, the Sun Devils eagerly await the challenge that lies ahead of them.
'We have a great mixture of size, speed, skill and strength. Our main focus is on making sure that we are fit enough to make a strong case for an NCAA berth at the end of the fall and I like our chances to do so,' Leone added. 'We have a very motivated and cohesive group that is poised to make 2005 a big-time season in this program's history.'